COMMENTARY | Back in May, the Indianapolis Colts signed a linebacker out of the Arena Football League -- Caesar Rayford. Three months and two preseason games later, Rayford is making a strong case for a spot on the final 53-man roster.
The move by the Colts excited me at the time, as I had the sense that the 6-foot-7-inch, 265-pounder out of Washington is more than the stereotypical "camp body." He's big, he's fast, he's durable, and he was an elite defender in the arena league, where offense rules the game.
His calling card in the AFL was sacks. In the first eight games of the arena season, before Rayford got the call from Indianapolis, he had already tallied six sacks.
So I've been keeping a close eye on Rayford as the preseason has progressed. He survived camp -- both in the physical sense and in staying on the roster -- and finally got his first taste of the NFL in Week 1 of the preseason against the Buffalo Bills.
It was an ugly 44-20 loss for the home team, but while many Colts fans were shutting off the TV in disgust, I was still excitedly watching for any glimpse of Rayford's chance at playing time.
Early in the fourth quarter, Rayford planted Bills quarterback Jeff Tuel for a 4-yard sack, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Daxton Swanson and returned 72 yards for a defensive touchdown. Rayford finished the day with a tackle, two assists, a sack and a forced fumble.
That's the way to catch the coaches' attention, I excitedly thought to myself.
Could Rayford do it again, though, especially on the road against the New York Giants? Or was Week 1 of the preseason just a fluke?
Week 2 brought the Colts a 20-12 victory on the road, and Rayford upped the ante by tallying two sacks against the Giants for a total loss of 10 yards. Rayford got to David Carr in the third quarter, and he planted Ryan Nassib in the fourth quarter. He darnn near had Nassib for another sack, too.
For good measure, he also added a tackle in the game. His arena football skills seem to be translating to the NFL quite well so far.
"He's making a case for himself. He's done a great job," Colts head coach Chuck Pagano told Craig Kelley of Colts.com. "(You) come in here not knowing anything about what we're doing, and he's shown up on game day."
There is, of course, still much work to be done, and Rayford knows it.
"I came in as a nobody. No one knew anything about me," he told Kelley. "I had a goal, and that was to come in and bust my tail. If you make plays, someone has to notice. I feel like I've turned some heads. I have to keep it going (and) make myself relevant."
By all indications, Rayford has made himself relevant enough to earn at least another week in Indianapolis when the Colts host the Cleveland Browns on Aug. 24. I'll be glued to the TV set, cheering No. 49 every time I see him and hoping that he continues to make plays and continues to turn some heads.
With more tail-busting and quarterback-planting, Rayford may very well find his way on the 53-man roster when the Colts' regular season begins.
The author is a resident of central Indiana and a long-time follower of the Colts.
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